Are we really working hard? – Good article from Alwyn Cosgrove

This is a great little piece from Alwyn Cosgrove.

February 22nd, 2012

I think there are definite parallels between work and fitness training. Over the past few years I think as a whole, in both areas, we’ve confused working “hard” with working long.

Think about someone you know who you’d describe as working hard for a living. Now – do they really work hard – i.e. back breaking, intense physical labor — or do you mean that they work long hours – nights and maybe weekends?

Working “hard” and working “long” are not the same. And neither one means working effectively.

You could make the case that someone who is working long hours and weekends to achieve their objectives may not necessarily be working hard at all – they may be doing completely ineffective activities.

In addition, their rate of actual quality work output may be very low on a minute-by-minute basis. Or quality output may not be frequent enough — so they are trying to compensate by increasing their total volume.

But just increasing the volume of an ineffective, low-quality (i.e. intensity), infrequent activity isn’t helping whatsoever. Effective, results-producing work is not dependent upon the total volume of work primarily.

It’s the same as effective, results-producing exercise:

Effectiveness first.
Intensity second.
Frequency Third.
Volume last.

Is your training effective?
Are you focused and striving to do more work/lift more weight/do more reps in the session?
Are you training regularly? (in all studies – frequency of exposure to a stimulus is a primary key to success).

Once you have effective and technically sound exercise, performed with appropriate intensity on a regular basis – then you can think about adding volume. Doing more work can’t replace effectiveness, intensity or consistency.


Eat Right for Your Body Type

If you’ve ever tried a diet, you’ll know where I’m coming from. Once in a while, the diet just doesn’t work. Unlike all the great stories in the diet book you bought, you just don’t seem to have lost the 10 (or more!) pounds promised in the first week. You start to feel bad, start to stray from the diet, and soon enough you’re back where you were, but $24.95 poorer.
Over the past several years, we’ve seen people successful on a variety of nutrition plans. The unfortunate side note is there’s no consistent “success secret” common to all of these people. So we keep searching for the best way.

Somehow, in this search, I end up reading even the most ridiculous diet books. One of them was Eat Right For Your Blood Type, which is mostly a pile of poo based on pseudoscience. Not surprisingly, none of the “science” cited by the author has been backed up by any legitimate scientist anywhere. Add to this a list of diets such as the cabbage diet, the cottage cheese diet, and The Russian Air Force diet. Needless to say, when I heard Dr. John Berardi start to talk about eating right for your body type, I almost dismissed him altogether.

Before I quit listening, though, he described how a person’s body type, or somatotype, whether it be ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph, can steer the way one should eat. Naturally, not everyone falls neatly into one of these categories, but most of us will be able to find a best fit. Note that even though you might be carrying extra fat, you’re not automatically an endomorph. Likewise, just having a low body fat number does not make you an ectomorph.
The take-home here is that no diet is ideal for everyone, and you might very well need to eat differently than your spouse or best friend to see good results. What Dr. Berardi recommends is as follows:

Ectomorphs – or, those thin individuals characterized by smaller bone structures, and typically thinner limbs – think endurance athlete – tend to be thyroid and SNS dominant with either higher output or higher sensitivity to catecholamines – like epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Interestingly, this profile is linked to a fast metabolic rate and a higher carbohydrate tolerance.
As a result, ectomorphs do best on higher carb diets with moderate protein intake and lower fat in the diet. A typical ballpark for this type of athlete would be around 55% carbs in the diet, 25% protein, and 20% fat
Mesomorphs – or those individuals characterized by a medium sized bone structure and athletic bodies holding a significant amount of lean mass – think gymnasts – tend to be testosterone and growth hormone dominant.
This profile obviously leads to a propensity for muscle gain and the maintenance of a low body fat.
As a result, mesomorphs typically do best on a mixed diet, consisting of a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Indeed, in this type of individual, a zone-style diet works quite well. And this would consist of about 40% carbohydrate in the diet, 30% protein, and 30% fat.
Endomorphs – or those individuals characterized by a larger bone structure with higher amounts of total body mass and fat mass – think power lifters – tend to be insulin dominant.
This profile leads to a greater propensity to store energy – both in lean as well as fat compartments. It also leads to a lower carbohydrate tolerance.
As a result, endomorphs typically do best on a higher fat and protein intake with carbohydrates being better controlled. A typical range for this type of athlete would be around 25% carbs in the diet, 35% protein, and 40% fat.

Dr. Berardi’s advice is not a fool-proof, perfect diet plan. It is a starting point to think through what you’re doing and how you might fix it. If you’re confused, I’m not surprised. I study this crap all the time and I still get mixed up. Bottom line: If you feel great and like the way you look, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re not happy with your health and the way you look, make a change, but be smart about it.


Train Like You


The easiest thing in the world is to believe you’re right. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is “Don’t believe everything you read, and don’t just read what you already believe.” In the world of training and conditioning, you can find a way to support almost any one of your pet theories.

Is running good for your knees or bad for your knees? Runner’s World will tell you one thing, and Bicycling might tell you another. You can go one level higher, and find “scientific” support for both ideas. Is walking effective for weight loss? Is CrossFit the be-all-end-all of conditioning programs? Does the Ideal Protein Diet work? Adkins?
The answer to each of these questions is most definitely “yes.” And, more often, “no.”

Each of us is an individual with different needs and abilities and experience. To try to fit yourself into any fixed program is likely to end in frustration. The better plan is to look at what you really want to get done, figure out a way to measure it, and build a plan to improve those measurements. Maybe eating fewer carbohydrates will help and maybe walking will improve your results, but maybe you need something different. Maybe you need to train like you.

What we know beyond doubt is that even an ideal plan for a given athlete only remains ideal for so long. Any time progress stops, we need to look for the “weak links” and focus on them. Every three to five weeks, an athlete needs to “unload” or rest to see future progress. More importantly, every person should be working hard enough that this unloading period feels necessary. Most importantly, each athlete needs to understand that boredom and injury come not from training too much, but from training wrong.

We’ve been training wrong for years. Don’t misunderstand; every coach does the best he can with the tools he has. The difficulty lies in getting the tools and learning to use them.

When I first started training clients, it was in a big warehouse-style gym with loads of machines and a few dumbbells. We used machines and dumbbells. We generally did 3 sets of each exercise about 3 times a week and assigned three hours of “cardio” on off-days. The success rate was terrible, but the trainers at the gym didn’t care because there was a virtually endless supply of “prospects”; new members looking for help in the gym. A plan like this still might work for a few exercisers, but no one I train wants to spend 3 hours on the damned elliptical every week.
We also used to think that fatigue and soreness were the hallmarks of a good workout. What we now know (also beyond a doubt) is that the effectiveness of training is not measured by the amount of fatigue it produces but rather the degree to which it improves the qualities you are trying to develop. Think about it…if you rolled your car while driving recklessly you’d probably be exceedingly sore the next day, but I doubt you’d consider it good training. Likewise, sitting on a plane all day can be very fatiguing…and you know how fit business travelers always look.

A good training plan has two critical elements. One, it has to fit in your schedule. Second, it has to do what you want it to do. It follows, then, that a training plan that asks for thirty minutes a day is superior to one that asks for 60. It also follows that the plan that produces measurable results, whether it be weight loss, strength gain, or performance in a specific event, is better than just working out.
The take home here is to avoid scheduling more than you will actually do. We’d rather schedule three hours and have our athletes over-deliver than to schedule four and see them fail. More importantly, a plan has to work – if you build a plan around a goal and see no results within two to three weeks, the plan sucks. Throw that one in the trash and start over.

– Steve Bechtel